Housekeeping

Which do you find more useful. The attribution (“So-and-so writing in such-and-such a source”) in bold header type at the head of the article, or the older-style “Via such-and-such a source” at the bottom after the blockquote? If you’ve noticed, I have been vacillating  between the two and, be it as it may that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, the inconsistency is bothering me. Your comments are welcome…

Study using human brain tissue shows herpes link to Alzheimer’s

adobestock_250192751-768x432-1The new study, reported in StatNews, is the first evidence of an association between herpesvirus HSV-1 and Alzheimer’s Disease using a lab model of a brain. Brain-like tissue infected with HSV-1 became riddled with amyloid plaques, one of the characteristic pathological findings in post-mortem studies of Alzheimer’s patients’ brains, along with tangles of tau protein. The plaques and other pathology that are generally thought to cause the disease may be the brain’s defensive response to viral infection long before the onset of symptoms. Amyloid is known to be antimicrobial but can disrupt brain structure and function. The finding may revitalize research on the connection between infectious agents and Alzheimer’s, a sort of backwater area of investigation, and the possibility that antiviral medications might offer treatment or prevention potential.

I am not a virologist, but it seems clear that some caution about these findings is indicated. The literature has see-sawed back and forth in recent years about whether viral etiologies are likely or not. Algorithms to analyze RNA and DNA sequencing data, and thus findings about viral presence in affected brains, can differ. More than 50% of us are estimated to be infected with HSV-1, far in excess of the proportion who will develop Alzheimer’s Disease. Indeed, non-demented patients may have considerable amyloid plaque at autopsy as well. The presence of higher levels of DNA strands of HSV-1 in postmortem studies of Alzheimer’s brains was first observed around 30 years ago but proving causality has not been easy. More recent studies have contradicted that findingas well, as well as putative links between Alzheimer’s and other herpesvirus or non-herpes viral genomes.

(Props to Abby)

Trump’s disastrous ABC interview illustrated why he usually sticks with Fox News

The event foreshadows the White House policy ahead: There is no serious, coordinated plan to tackle the crisis. Instead, Trump will spend the summer trying to convince his supporters to ignore the data and believe that he turned the coronavirus crisis into an economic success story. That means opening up businesses, even though no expert believes that will help the economy. At the same time, it’ll cause more Americans to die.

Trump, gallingly, has decided to put his bogus campaign message before the health and safety and lives of Americans. As he said earlier Tuesday: “Will some people be badly affected? Yes.”
“Well, I’ll be honest, uh, I have a lot of things going on”

During the interview with Muir, Trump tried to deflect questions about his administration’s failures with regard to obtaining personal protective equipment and deploying an effective coronavirus test by pinning blame on former President Barack Obama. This talking point is absurd, but he has largely gotten away with making it during press briefings.

It took Muir just one question to demonstrate that Trump has no defense beyond deflection.

“What did you do when you became president to restock those cupboards that you say are bare?” he asked.

“Well, I’ll be honest, uh, I have a lot of things going on,” Trump began, in a soundbite tailor-made for an attack ad. “We had a lot of, uh, people, that refused to allow the country to be successful. They wasted a lot of time on ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ — that turned out to be a total hoax. Then they did ‘Ukraine, Ukraine,’ and that was a total hoax. Then they impeached the president for absolutely no reason.”

…None of that was reassuring. But the most terrifying part of the interview came at the beginning, when Trump acknowledged that American lives will have to be sacrificed for the sake of reopening the economy.

Asked by Muir if “lives will be lost to reopen the country,” Trump didn’t try to deny it.

— Aaron Rupar writing in Vox

What Goes On In a Proton? Quark Math Still Conflicts With Experiments.

baryonfluxtubes_1160_cObjects are made of atoms, and atoms are likewise the sum of their parts — electrons, protons and neutrons. Dive into one of those protons or neutrons, however, and things get weird. Three particles called quarks ricochet back and forth at nearly the speed of light, snapped back by interconnected strings of particles called gluons. Bizarrely, the proton’s mass must somehow arise from the energy of the stretchy gluon strings, since quarks weigh very little and gluons nothing at all.

Physicists uncovered this odd quark-gluon picture in the 1960s and matched it to an equation in the ’70s, creating the theory of quantum chromodynamics (QCD). The problem is that while the theory seems accurate, it is extraordinarily complicated mathematically. Faced with a task like calculating how three wispy quarks produce the hulking proton, QCD simply fails to produce a meaningful answer.

via Quanta Magazine

Discriminating against our older selves

‘Although largely unnoticed by mainstream media, something significant has happened with the rise of COVID-19: the marginalization of older Americans. Scorn for elders is now on full display. Some blame them for the shelter-in-place guidelines. Some even say they should be offered up as a sacrifice for the good of the country.

But the coronavirus affects everyone. It’s true that hospitalization and mortality rates increase with age, but a March report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows young adults take up more ICU beds than the very old. This may evolve as the pandemic ensues. However, it highlights the potential issues in ageist assumptions. So why portray only older adults as vulnerable?

…We are professors of gerontology at the University of Southern California. We ask anyone who considers themselves polite, socially aware and considerate of others to rethink the common, casual use of the stereotypical phrases that refer to age. Many people do value and respect the experience of older adults, of course; only by being aware of the implications of our word choices and behaviors can we start to adjust our prejudices….’

— Carolyn Cicero and Paul Nash, writing in The Conversation

“Live and Let Die” played for Trump during factory tour

live-and-let-dieRepublicans broadly agree that mass deaths are an acceptable sacrifice in the effort to “reopen” an economy savaged by the coronavirus pandemic. This approach got its media moment yesterday as Trump toured a mask factory to Paul McCartney’s classic hit Live and Let Die.

“They blasted “Live and Let Die” while Trump walked around a Honeywell plant today in Arizona without a mask,” writes Aaron Rupar on Twitter. “It’s hard to believe this clip is real.”

71,000 dead as of today.

I keep seeing liberal folks accusing the right of hypocrisy, especially with respect to abortion. This is pointless, because they don’t care. We’re at the threshold of a sea change, where many right-wingers ditch pro-life rhetoric in favor of blunter, more sectarian weapons. “All life is sacred” was a lie its own proponts hardly pretended to believe in the first place, so why honor it after they abandon it? The post-Roe political reality of “it’s not her body anyway” is coming.

— Rob Beschizza, writing on Boing Boing

Beginning with the End

final_dadu_emergence_print_v2_4_23-2048x1191-1‘In this essay, Roy Scranton asks what we mean when we say “the world is ending.” Examining the nature of the narratives we tell ourselves about the future, he explores what revelation may be before us.

…Existence has no shape but change, and history is one damned thing after another…’

via Emergence Magazine

Trump Is Unraveling

‘In case there was any doubt, the past dozen days have proved we’re at the point in his presidency where Donald Trump has become his own caricature, a figure impossible to parody, a man whose words and actions are indistinguishable from an Alec Baldwin skit on Saturday Night Live.

President Trump’s pièce de résistance came during a late April coronavirus task-force briefing, when he floated using “just very powerful light” inside the body as a potential treatment for COVID-19 and then, for good measure, contemplated injecting disinfectant as a way to combat the effects of the virus “because you see it gets in the lungs and does a tremendous number on them, so it’d be interesting to check that.”

But the burlesque show just keeps rolling on.

Take this past weekend, when former President George W. Bush delivered a three-minute video as part of The Call to Unite, a 24-hour live-stream benefiting COVID-19 relief. …Bush made a moving, eloquent plea for empathy and national unity, which enraged Donald Trump enough that he felt the need to go on the attack.

But there’s more. On the same weekend that he attacked Bush for making an appeal to national unity, Trump said this about Kim Jong Un, one of the most brutal leaders in the world: “I, for one, am glad to see he is back, and well!”

Then, Sunday night, sitting at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial for a town-hall interview with Fox News, Trump complained that he is “treated worse” than President Abraham Lincoln. “I am greeted with a hostile press, the likes of which no president has ever seen,” Trump said.

By Monday morning, the president was peddling a cruel and bizarre conspiracy theory aimed at MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, a Trump critic, with Trump suggesting in his tweet that a “cold case” be opened to look into the death of an intern in 2001.

I could have picked a dozen other examples over the past 10 days, but these five will suffice. They illustrate some of the essential traits of Donald Trump: the shocking ignorance, ineptitude, and misinformation; his constant need to divide Americans and attack those who are trying to promote social solidarity; his narcissism, deep insecurity, utter lack of empathy, and desperate need to be loved; his feelings of victimization and grievance; his affinity for ruthless leaders; and his fondness for conspiracy theories….’

— Peter Wehner, writing in The Atlantic

Related:

Anne Applebaum: The rest of the world is laughing at Trump (The Atlantic)

George T. Conway III: Unfit for office (The Atlantic)

George Packer: We are living in a failed state (The Atlantic)

The mysterious disappearance of the first SARS virus, and why we need a vaccine for the current one but didn’t for the other

SARS-CoV-1 was more aggressive and lethal than SARS-CoV-2. However, SARS-CoV-2 spreads faster, sometimes with hidden symptoms, allowing each infected person to infect several others. The current estimate is about three, but we scientists won’t know the real number until we can test a lot more people, and can understand the role of people without symptoms.

The most important difference is that contact tracing – or finding out who was exposed to someone infected with the virus – was relatively easy: Everyone had severe symptoms in two to three days.

With SARS-CoV-2, it takes about two weeks for symptoms to appear, and many people don’t have any symptoms at all. Imagine asking someone whom they had contact with for the last two weeks! You can accurately remember most people you had contact with for the past two days, but two weeks? This critical tool for pandemic control is very challenging to implement. This means that the only safe thing to do is to maintain quarantine of everyone until the pandemic is under control.

— Marilyn Roossinck, environmental microbiologist at Pennsylvania State University, writing in The Conversation

Wildlife Photographer Christina Mittermeier on the White Rhinos:

wr.‘Please step forward in support of @olpejeta, home to the last two northern white rhinos on the planet. There’s an opportunity right now to win a trip there yourself! For a donation of just $10, the winner will get to go on safari to meet the rhinos. Ami will also give you a private photography workshop there. She is one of my favorite people in the world and one of my favorite photographers. I know that she will be an exceptional teacher. You will also gain firsthand knowledge about the incredible efforts to save rhino and other species from extinction. The trip will be scheduled only when it’s safe to travel. Please donate at omaze.com/safari.

 

Where Have All the Heart Attacks Gone?

Harlan Krumholz, M.D., professor of medicine at Yale:

As we fight coronavirus, we need to combat perceptions that everyone else must stay away from the hospital. The pandemic toll will be much worse if it leads people to avoid care for life-threatening, yet treatable, conditions like heart attacks and strokes.

via New York Times

You Can’t Go Home Again: Inside Wuhan’s Postsurge Return to Life

undefinedSo far, Wuhan’s answer has been to create a version of normal that would appear utterly alien to people in London, Milan, or New York—at least for the moment. While daily routines have largely resumed, there remain significant restrictions on a huge range of activities, from funerals to hosting visitors at home. Bolstered by China’s powerful surveillance state, even the simplest interactions are mediated by a vast infrastructure of public and private monitoring intended to ensure that no infection goes undetected for more than a few hours.

But inasmuch as citizens can return to living as they did before January, it’s not clear, after what they’ve endured, that they really want to. Shopping malls and department stores are open again, but largely empty. The same is true of restaurants; people are ordering in instead. The subway is quiet, but autos are selling: If being stuck in traffic is annoying, at least it’s socially distanced.

via Bloomberg

The Boston Dynamics Coronavirus Doctor Robot Dog Will See You Now

boston dynamics robot named spotIf the age of the coronavirus is anything, it’s surreal. And one of the most surreal things yet is happening at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where help has arrived not from extra human medical professionals, but in the form of famous Boston Dynamics robot dog Spot, now traipsing around with a tablet for a face. Spot’s new job is to be an avatar for hospital workers, who remotely operate the machine and speak to patients through the tablet, keeping staffers at a safe distance from sick people.

And even more remarkably, the patients haven’t been freaking out and noping right back home. “Part of it may be that we’re in this strange world of Covid, where it’s almost like anything goes,” says Dr. Peter Chai, of the hospital’s department of emergency medicine. “I think everybody, at least at this point, is starting to get the fact that we’re trying to limit exposure.”

 

..[T]heoretically, they’re the ideal medical professionals. They don’t get sick, they don’t need breaks, and they can do menial tasks like delivering supplies. All of these would free up real doctors and nurses to tend to patients.

via WIRED

Has anyone else read William Gibson’s Agency yet, in which a very similar creature plays an important part?

Earth Day 2020: 7 things we’ve learned since the last Earth Day

‘1) We live with a lot of air pollution, but we can reduce it pretty quickly…
2) The virus that causes Covid-19 almost certainly originated in bats. Many more potential pandemic viruses are out there, lurking…
3) Life keeps disappearing at a stunning pace and scale…
4) We keep discovering new species and learning new facts about old ones …
5) In Australia, volatile weather and climate change converged to feed massive wildfires…
6) Satellites are beginning to obscure our view of the night sky…
7) Trees are superheroes, and the world is starting to recognize it…’

via  Vox

Democrats fear judicial sabotage if Congress is allowed to vote remotely

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says there are “serious constitutional” concerns with remote voting. Is she right?

via Vox

Congress could become incapacitated either by members contracting coronavirus or their reluctance to assemble and risk contagion. Remote voting might be an answer, given surmounting the technological and security challenges. But constitutionality is also a serious barrier, raising the danger of implementing a novel process at risk of being struck down by court challenge. Provisions of the Constitution are open to the interpretation that lawmakers are required to gather together in a single location, the Founding Fathers of course unable to be be faulted for not anticipating cyberspace or virtual reality. However, legislative bodies are empowered to establish their own rules about how votes are to be cast. Democrats worry that the Supreme Court under Roberts would not agree with this argument, especially given the vastly increased tendency of this Court to overturn precedent. The author suggests a mechanism of getting an advisory ruling on the constitutionality of remote voting before a test case is brought, so that the partisan Court would not be considering a specific legal provision that one party supports and the other opposes. However, although used on the state level, Federal advisory opinions are currently unconstitutional and would require an amendment to permit them.

What If a Shrinking Economy Wasn’t a Disaster?

As the coronavirus pandemic grows, it brings a secondary, economic disaster—unemployment, small business closings, local government budget shortfalls. Given the way our economy is structured, widespread job losses and plummeting consumer demand trigger a whole lot of suffering. But, as philosopher Barbara Muraca explained in 2013, the activist and scholarly movement known as degrowth is building a vision of a society where economies would get smaller by design—and people would be better off for it.

Muraca traces the start of the degrowth movement to the 1972 publication of Limits to Growth, an influential report by the Club of Rome. The report presented an ecological argument—that humans were unsustainably consuming the Earth’s resources. In the years that followed, French scholars expanded the argument into social and psychological realms. They critiqued the central role of constant growth in modern western societies. By the early 2000s, degrowth had come to include criticism of wealthy countries’ advocacy of “Western-style” growth-oriented economies in the Global South. For example, some degrowth writers embrace the struggles of indigenous people in Ecuador and Bolivia to achieve a constitutional right to a “buen vivir”—a concept of community-level well-being rooted in economic and cultural relationships with local ecological systems.

When it comes to what an ideal degrowth society would look like, the writers Muraca cites are not a unified bloc. Some focus on small-scale democracy and economic activity, such as local food systems. Others envision the centrally planned production and distribution of a minimal set of goods to satisfy everyone’s basic needs. Some degrowth thinkers have also advocated universal basic income or jobs guarantees as ways to provide for people’s basic necessities while reducing overall economic activity and resource use.

Whatever the specifics, degrowth is a radical idea. But it’s gotten increasing traction among activists and scholars in rich countries, particularly since the worldwide recession in 2008. Given the need to reduce carbon emissions to lessen the impacts of climate change, curbing material consumption in rich places seems to many like a necessary goal.

via JSTOR Daily

Was Modern Art Really a CIA Psy-Op?

The number of MoMA-CIA crossovers is highly suspicious, to say the least….

In the battle for “hearts and minds,” modern art was particularly effective. John Hay Whitney, both a president of MoMA and a member of the Whitney Family, which founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, explained that art stood out as a line of national defense, because it could “educate, inspire, and strengthen the hearts and wills of free men.”

via JSTOR Daily

Despite CDC recommendations to the contrary, hate group intends to hold rally

Michael Hill has no intention of letting a global pandemic cancel plans for the League of the South’s annual conference.

The 68-year-old Hill, president of the League, posted the following to the group’s website March 18.

“At present, we are doing more than simply ‘monitoring’ the situation. We are actively making plans and raising funds to help our members who are in financial straits, and we are moving ahead with our plans for upcoming events, including our 2020 national conference in late June.”

Hill’s decision goes against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations against gatherings of more than 10 people. Older adults in particular are likely at higher risk for the disease, the CDC notes. The average age of the League’s state chairmen and national staff is roughly 57.

via Boing Boing

Although I must be breaking some PC principle to do so, since it doesn’t appear that others are saying this, this and other recent stories, such as —

— have me stating the obvious. The pandemic seems poised as a proof of concept re: social Darwinism. It may be selecting against the unfittest in terms of factors like respect for scientific (e.g. epidemiological and public health) principles, deference for experts, altruistic concern for the good of one’s peers, and openness to being educated.  (If only their selfish ignorance did not place the potentially innocent around them at risk too.) I wonder if there is any empirical data that people in such a demographic are being infected at higher rates?

Hand-Washing Technique Is Surprisingly Controversial

…[W]hat you’re washing with has a much bigger statistical effect than how long you’re washing….

Another good example is the temperature you wash at. Namely, it doesn’t matter. Again, the issue is about the soap and about how you’re rubbing your hands around. That will work in cold water as well as warm. But the Food and Drug Administration’s food code for restaurant safety still expects hand-washing sinks to be able to deliver very hot water.

viaFiveThirtyEight

How Authoritarians Are Exploiting the Covid-19 Crisis to Grab Power

Kenneth Roth writing in New York Review of Books:

For authoritarian-minded leaders, the coronavirus crisis is offering a convenient pretext to silence critics and consolidate power. Censorship in China and elsewhere has fed the pandemic, helping to turn a potentially containable threat into a global calamity. The health crisis will inevitably subside, but autocratic governments’ dangerous expansion of power may be one of the pandemic’s most enduring legacies.

 

It will take some time, but rest assured: a coronavirus vaccine is coming, and it will work

The biopharmaceutical industry will be able to make a Covid-19 vaccine— probably a few of them—using various existing vaccine technologies. But many people worry that Covid-19 will mutate and evade our vaccines, as the flu virus does each season. Covid-19 is fundamentally different from flu viruses, though, in ways that will allow our first-generation vaccines to hold up well. To the extent that Covid does mutate, it’s likely to do so much more slowly than the flu virus does, buying us time to create new and improved vaccines.

via  3 Quarks Daily

The presumption of good faith can help end polarization

Taking time for thoughtful consideration has fallen out of fashion, writes Emily Chamlee-Wright. How can we restore good faith and good judgement to our increasingly polarized conversations?

…Emily Chamlee-Wright recommends practicing the presumption of good faith. That means that we should presume, unless we have good evidence to the contrary, that the other person’s intent is not to deceive or to offend us, but to learn our point of view.

via Big Think

Memorial Statue Depicts Wolves of New York City

‘It appears that sculptor Joe Reginella has once again erected a memorial statue marking a fictional occurrence in New York City. This time, it’s a story that purports that former Mayor Ed Koch sent wolves into the subways of the city to ward off graffiti artists during his tenure, and according to the Ed Koch Wolf Foundation (who supposedly put up the memorial), the creatures are still the reason behind missing tourists in the Big Apple…’

via Hi-Fructose Magazine

Joe Reginella’s Memorial Statues Mark Fictional Disasters in NYC

New York sculptor Joe Reginella has fooled countless tourists with his statues scattered across the city, marking events that never actually happened. From a Staten Island Ferry encounter with an octopus to a New York Harbor UFO encounter, the artist’s scenarios use the convincing device of the memorial statue to relay his narratives.

Each statue has its own website, with a backstory, souvenir shop, and tour offers in tow. From the ferry disaster site: “It was close to 4am on the quiet morning of November 22, 1963 when the Steam Ferry Cornelius G. Kolff vanished without a trace. On its way with nearly 400 hundred people, mostly on their way to work, the disappearance of the Cornelius G. Kolff remains both one of New York’s most horrific maritime tragedies and perhaps its most intriguing mystery. Eye witness accounts describe “large tentacles” which “pulled” the ferry beneath the surface only a short distance from its destination at Whitehall Terminal in Lower Manhattan.”

via Hi-Fructose Magazine

 

R.I.P. Napoleon Chagnon (1938-2019)

Image result for napoleon Chagnon

UC Santa Barbara anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon has died. Chagnon did notable work with remote tribes in the Amazonian rainforest, particularly the Yanomamo “fierce people”, but is perhaps best known for the so-called “Darkness” furor that ripped through the American Anthropological Association (AAA), almost destroying its credibility as an intellectual and professional organization. I previously commented on the controversy here, in 2000.

In 2000, anthropological journalist Patrick Tierney made claims that Chagnon and colleague geneticist James Neel had introduced a potentially fatal contraindicated measles vaccine to the tribe, probably inducing a 1968 epidemic, and then had withheld medical treatments might have saved lives, in the interest of testing “fascistic” eugenic theories. The AAA found the claims credible enough to investigate.

The truth appears to be quite the opposite. In prior fieldwork, Neel had determined that the Yanomamo were alarmingly vulnerable to measles and had personally arranged to bring vaccines with him on May 1968 expedition after consulting experts for advice on which vaccines to use, obtaining instructions about administration, and personally arranging fundraising.

Reportedly, measles had already broken out when the team arrived and, under Chagnon’s logistical leadership, they raced to contain the epidemic although supplies began to run out before everyone could be appropriately vaccinated. What is at stake is whether Neel and Chagnon are remembered as genocidal monsters or humanitarians.

interestingly, Chagnon’s work with the Yanomamo had been criticized by anthropologist within the AAA for perhaps a decade before the furor about the measles epidemic broke. He was subject to anonymous defamation probably spread by the Roman Catholic church because Chagnon had been publicly critical of their missionary work with the tribe. Doctrinal dispute about his theoretical approach also fueled the opposition.  After Tierney’s claims about the measles epidemic, an AAA task force formally faulting Chagnon on several counts was accepted by the AAA board in 2002 despite the fact that many other professional and academic institutions were alarmed at the scandalous methodology and conclusions of Tierney’s book. These included the National Academy of Sciences, the American Society of Human Genetics, the International Genetics Epidemiology Society, the Society for Visual Anthropology, and the University of Michigan. In contrast to the AAA board, the voting membership of the organization passed two referenda in 2003 and 2005 by overwhelming margins, condemning the misrepresentation of the 1968 epidemic, criticizing Tierney and his academic supporters, and calling for a complete rescission of the acceptance of the task force report.

Defenders of AAA’s action talk in terms of the legitimacy of exploring ethical issues in anthropological fieldwork such as informed consent, the effects of gift giving, and the representation of vulnerable subjects. They speak of the inquiry into Chagnon and Neel’s work as in the defense of the credibility of American anthropology. Detractors blast the group for taking seriously the work of an uncredentialed journalist whose major claims had already been shown at the outset to be false instead of protecting serious investigators’ right to be fairly represented in the public spotlight and failing to give them a formal invitation to defend themselves in the process of wrecking their reputations.

Despite the membership vote in 2005 to withdraw acceptance of the task force report, the AAA left the report on its website until 2009 when legal action on behalf of Chagnon finally forced them to remove it. Chagnon’s work as “the last of the great ethnographers” was celebrated in an Edge special event convened by Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, John Brockman, and other intellectual luminaries.

via Edge.org

Cuba’s ‘sonic weapon’ may have been mosquito gas

Image result for cuba's sonic weapon

Canadian researchers say they may have identified the cause of a mystery illness which plagued diplomatic staff in Cuba in 2016. Some reports in the US suggested an “acoustic attack” caused US staff similar symptoms, sparking speculation about a secret sonic weapon.

But the Canadian team suggests that neurotoxins from mosquito fumigation are the more likely cause. The Zika virus, carried by mosquitoes, was a major health concern at the time.

So-called “Havana syndrome” caused symptoms including headaches, blurred vision, dizziness and tinnitus. It made international headlines when the US announced more than a dozen staff from its Cuban embassy were being treated.

Cuba denied any suggestion of “attacks”, and the reports led to increased tension between the two nations.

In July, a US academic study showed “brain abnormalities” in the diplomats. “It’s not imagined, all I can say is that there is truth to be found,” one of the authors said.

The Canadian team from the Brain Repair Centre in Halifax thinks it now has the answer.

Canadian diplomats were affected by similar reactions to US counterparts – though the study noted that the symptoms of the Canadians were more gradual than the “acute, directional… auditory stimulus” in some of the US cases.

The study notes that tests carried out on 28 participants – seven of whom were tested both before and after being posted to Havana – support a diagnosis of brain injury acquired by diplomats and their families while in Cuba.

The patterns of brain injury “all raise the hypothesis of recurrent, low-dose exposure to neurotoxins”, the report said. Specifically, the results were “highly suggestive” of something called cholinesterase inhibitor intoxication.

via BBC News

Colt “suspends production” of AR-15 rifles for consumers

Image result for ar15

‘Armalite created the AR-15, sold the rights to Colt in the fifties, and the design long ago emerged from patent and became widely-copied. The AR-15 itself will no longer be made for consumers by Colt, it says. It says they’re just not that popular among consumers and the company needs to focus on institutional sales…

Missing in a lot of the coverage is the fact lots of companies make AR-15s. Colt not making AR-15s is like Sony not making laptops…’

via Boing Boing

The Enduring Mystery of ‘Jawn,’ Philadelphia’s All-Purpose Noun

UnknownDan Nosowitz writes:

The word “jawn” is unlike any other English word. In fact, according to the experts that I spoke to, it’s unlike any other word in any other language. It is an all-purpose noun, a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people. It is a completely acceptable statement in Philadelphia to ask someone to “remember to bring that jawn to the jawn.”

It is a word without boundaries or limits. Growing up in the suburbs just west of the city, I heard it used mostly to refer to objects and events. In the 2015 movie Creed, a character asks a sandwich maker to “put some onions on that jawn.” But it can get much more complex. It can refer to abstract nouns such as theories; a colleague of Jones routinely refers to “Marxist jawn.” It can also refer to people or groups of people. “Side-jawn,” meaning a someone with whom the speaker cheats on his or her significant other, “is a uniquely Philly thing as far as I can tell,” says Jones. “And not something you want to be.” via Pocket

I’ve run across other all-purpose, or almost-all-purpose, nouns in slang usage. Just last week, I was reading Tana French’s The Witch Elm, populated with a number of characters speaking vernacular Irish English. After being puzzled by several characters’ use of the word yoke, I finally figured out that it seems to serve a virtually identical purpose to jawn as a generic all-purpose substitute for anything. [Can any speakers of Irish English reading this confirm?]

But, of course, the word with perhaps the most widespread similar role in the vernacular as a generic, at least here in the US, is shit. I’m sure all of you speaking English in the US (and Canada??) have heard virtually all of the examples in the “Jawn” article with “shit” substituted for them:

  • “remember to bring that shit”
  • “put some onions on that shit”
  • “Marxist shit”
  • “Pass me that shit”
  • you can call something you like “the shit”
  • we refer to “my shit” to refer globally to our possessions, our sensibilities or style,  or specifically to our genitalia

Perhaps one difference is that shit stands in only for things. [Again,  Irish English speakers, what about yoke?] The assertion, then, that jawn is “unlike any other word in any other language” may relate to its usage for places, persons or groups of persons as well as things.  Can readers come up with other examples of generic nouns that also do so?

Using brain signals to detect patients’ pain levels

UnknownIn a paper presented at the International Conference on Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction, the researchers describe a method to quantify pain in patients. To do so, they leverage an emerging neuroimaging technique called functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), in which sensors placed around the head measure oxygenated hemoglobin concentrations that indicate neuron activity. For their work, the researchers use only a few fNIRS sensors on a patient’s forehead to measure activity in the prefrontal cortex, which plays a major role in pain processing. Using the measured brain signals, the researchers developed personalized machine-learning models to detect patterns of oxygenated hemoglobin levels associated with pain responses. When the sensors are in place, the models can detect whether a patient is experiencing pain with around 87 percent accuracy.

via Big Think

However, even if two subjects are measured as having the same levels of neuronal activity in response to a nociceptive stimulus, there is still no way to compare their subjective experiences of the stimulus. Many other factors that might bear on differences in the subjective experience of the pain might not be reflected in differences in graphical readouts of neuronal activity levels, e.g.:

  • tolerance levels and pain threshold
  • cognitive attributions of cause, intensity, and fungibility of the pain
  • other concurrent factors in the person’s emotional state, e.g. degree of depression
  • factors affecting distraction from or focus on the painful stimulus

How mirror neurons allow us to send other people ‘good vibes’

UnknownI have long been interested in the relationship between mirror neurons and some behavioral disorders related to person-perception and the capacity for social relationships . I think the evidence is good that mirror neuron dysfunction plays a role in autistic spectrum disorders including Asperger syndrome. But, because of the mirror neuron system, smiles are literally neurologically contagious, and so are the good feelings associated with them. Via Big Think

Pet Peeves Dept (I’m Sure YOU Don’t Make This Mistake)

Should I be as irked as I am by the frequent use of ‘compliment’ when one really means ‘complement’? This misuse makes me fume whenever I come across it, but it seems that one of the reasons for the mistake is that, in addition to sounding the same, they used to share some meanings (via Dictionary.com). ‘Complement’ is the older word, in use since the 1300s, and meaning ‘to enhance something’ or ‘make it perfect’. ‘Compliment’ hails from the mid-1600s via the Spanish ‘complimiento’ but originates from the same Latin root. Despite the commonalities, the two words have diverged and using one for the other is, frankly, confusion. To ‘compliment’ someone (yes, a person, not something) means ‘to praise’ them or ‘to express admiration for’ them. And please don’t tell me that a misuse so common changes the language and becomes acceptable — things like this are just plain ignorant mistakes:

While I’m here, I’ll just mention the other frequent case of mistaken word identity that really gets to me — the use of ‘tact’ when one really means ‘tack.’

I can’t count the number of times I’ve had someone tell me they caught a typo I missed: I wrote, “take a different tack” when I must have meant “take a different tact.” I’ll admit I sometimes miss typos, but that’s not one of them. It’s possibly the most widely misused phrase I can think of.

“Tack” — the correct word in this context — is actually derived from sailing terminology. The tack is the lower leading corner of the sail; it points the direction the ship is heading. So when a sailboat changes course, it’s changing from one tack to another, or “taking a different tack.”

Tact, on the other hand, really only has one meaning. It’s a keen perception of what is appropriate or considerate. (Think of tactile–>touch–>the right touch.)

via Get edited.

[You are welcome to use the comments section to blow off steam about confusion between other similar words. ]

One of the Most Terrifying Smiles on Earth

Illustration for article titled The Deep-Sea Dragonfish Has One of the Most Terrifying Smiles on Earth‘Scientists have shined a light on one of the creepier denizens of the deep sea, a pitch-black creature that can turn itself into a living lamp called the dragonfish. New research helps explain one of the dragonfish’s more disturbing qualities: its relatively gigantic and translucent teeth.

Deep-sea dragonfish, while rarely more than a half-foot long, are at the top of their food chain in their particular niche, much like sharks, bears, and other apex predators. Its superiority is in no small part thanks to a disproportionately huge jaw, which features sharp, fang-like teeth and allows it to swallow prey up to half its size…’

via Gizmodo

Oakland Follows Denver in Decriminalizing Magic Mushrooms

‘…The Oakland City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to decriminalize magic mushrooms and other psychoactive fungi and plants, ordering law enforcement to stop the prosecution of possession of natural psychedelics. The decision came less than a month after Denver voters approved decriminalization of psilocybin mushrooms, with an initiative that bars the city from using resources to pursue criminal penalties for people over the age of 21 who use or possess psilocybin…

The resolution doesn’t allow for farming or commercial sales of natural psilocybin and clarifies that people who have post-traumatic stress or depression should speak to a doctor before using psilocybin. An amendment also advises that users “don’t go solo” when using psilocybin. The resolution only covers natural psilocybin—not MDMA, LSD, or other synthetic drugs.

As Associated Press points out, psychedelic mushrooms are still illegal under state and federal laws…’

via Gizmodo

What Rep. Justin Amash’s call for Trump’s impeachment showed about the Republican Party

Republican Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Jim Jordan (OH), and Chair Mark Meadows (NC) participate in an interview on April 6, 2017.

‘…Mark Sanford was shocked to learn that his former colleague Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), who last weekend became the sole Republican to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment, had been formally censured by the House Freedom Caucus.

The Freedom Caucus unanimously voted to condemn Amash, a founding member, on Monday evening for speaking out against Trump, escalating the treatment that Trump critics — like former Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake and even Sanford — have received in the past.

..To outside observers like Sanford, it was a telling moment. The Freedom Caucus was once a group designed to fight against a certain Republican Party groupthink, to promote small-government and constitutionally conservative ideals, but it is increasingly indistinguishable from Trump…’

via  Vox

Which Corporations Are Funding Abortion Bans and How to Divest from Them

Earlier this week, Judd Legum’s Popular Information newsletter reported that, in recent years, six corporations contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the lawmakers behind six-week abortion bans in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio. In an attempt to fight back, consumers across the country have started organizing boycotts.

For a full list of who took money from whom, you should read the entire Popular Information post, but here’s a quick rundown of the corporations involved and which candidates accepted the largest donations:

  • AT&T: $196,600 total, including $113,000 to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and $15,000 to Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant
  • Eli Lilly: $66,250 total, including $30,000 to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and $7,000 to Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn
  • Walmart: $57,700 total, including $7,000 to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and $10,000 to Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof
  • Pfizer: $53,650 total, including $6,600 to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and $12,700 to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine
  • Coca-Cola: $40,800 total, including $10,000 to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and $6,600 to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp
  • Aetna: $26,600 total, including $6,600 to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and $5,250 to Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof

via Lifehacker

Volunteers Jumped Out of a Plane Without a Parachute to Test the Efficacy of Parachutes

‘Researchers from Harvard, the University of Michigan, and UCLA have conducted the first ever randomized controlled trial on the efficacy of parachutes. As detailed in a cheeky study published late last year in the prestigious British Medical Journal, the researchers enlisted 23 volunteers to jump out of a plane or helicopter to test whether the use of parachutes reduced risk of injury or death…

Remarkably, the researchers found that “parachute use did not significantly reduce death or major injury.” Indeed, there were zero deaths or serious injuries in either group. As the researchers noted in their conclusion, however, this likely had to do with the fact that… (more)’

via Motherboard

World’s largest natural sound archive now fully digitized and online

via Cornell University: ‘In terms of speed and the breadth of material now accessible to anyone in the world, this is really revolutionary,” says audio curator Greg Budney, describing a major milestone just achieved by the Macaulay Library archive at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All archived analog recordings in the collection, going back to 1929, have now been digitized and can be heard at http://www.MacaulayLibrary.org…’

The Cicadas Are Coming!

Crowdsourcing An Underground Movement : “Back in 1996, a group of baby cicadas burrowed into soils in the eastern U.S. to lead a quiet life of constant darkness and a diet of roots. Now at the ripe age of 17, those little cicadas are all grown up and it’s time to molt, procreate and die while annoying a few million humans with their constant chirping in the process.

We know that when 8 inches below the surfaces reaches 64 degrees F those little buggers will be everywhere, but we don’t know when that’ll be. That’s why WNYC is asking “armchair scientists, lovers of nature and DIY makers” for your help to predict the emergence of cicadas.

Here’s what to do: Go to WYNC‘s website and follow the directions to create your own temperature sensor. When things start to warm up, report your temperature findings to the station. As the results come in, WNYC will map out the findings and share them online.” (All Tech Considered : NPR).